Wednesday, September 12, 2012

SYTYCD Recap: Holy reverse manipulation, Batman!

Last night was the penultimate (love that word) episode of SYTYCD's ninth season, which was part hiphop extravaganza, part premature crowning of this year's winners.

Or was it? Was Uncle Nigel's last minute change of heart in which he told the oft-pimped Cyrus he wasn't voting for him (wait, Nigel's allowed to vote?) recognition that he and the other judges gave Cyrus a free pass the entire season at the expense of more talented dancers, or was it a tricky sleight of hand, in which he tried to acknowledge critics who have questioned the show's treatment of Cyrus, but actually rallied Cyrus' ridiculously rabid fans to get out the vote? (Knowing the depths to which this man is capable, I'd go with the latter.)

Whatever the motivation, it was an odd capper to a show so jam-packed with performances—some stellar, some good, some bad (Keith-Tyce's group number, cough cough)—that even I was out of breath after the two hours were up. But luckily we had giggly, excited Cat to prop us up, bedecked in a marvelous red frock and super-red lips. (Seriously, this woman is hot. Why can't she take over the universe instead of Ryan Seacrest?)

Academy Award-nominated director and choreographer Rob Marshall returned to the judges' panel, no doubt happy he wouldn't have to share air time with Lady GaGa and her monstrous projectile boots this year.

The show opened with Eliana and Cyrus' paso doble, choreographed by Jason Gilkison to Daft Punk's The Game Has Changed. Jason changed up the traditional paso by having Eliana be the matador and Cyrus be the cape. (Or, in other words, having Eliana do the dancing and Cyrus just gets to fling himself around.) Sadly, I found it one of Jason's weaker routines on the show. While I thought Eliana was magnificent and she threw herself into the routine amazingly, flapping dress and all, Cyrus' footwork wasn't particularly sharp and he just didn't do much. (And that sums up many of his performances the entire season.)

Nigel praised Eliana's magical combination of performance and technique, and teased Cyrus' outfit ("Did you ever think you'd be on national television wearing a big black dress?"), but cautioned him about lowering his shoulders and straightening his legs. Mary doesn't care about technique where Cyrus is concerned, saying that Cyrus might have thought that "conquering the paso doble was as difficult as skinny dippin' with snappin' turtles" (suddenly she's Southern?), but he nailed it. (Umm, Mary? This is nailing the paso doble. Or this. Cyrus did not nail it, even if he had a hammer. Or a nail gun.) Rob praised Eliana's ability to throw technique away (in a good way) and tell the story. Oh, and Cyrus has exciting passion.

A weepily grateful Tiffany joined Season 4's Will for a Sonya-choreographed contemporary routine that showed how far Tiffany has come this season. Danced to The Time Has Come by Moloko, Tiffany threw herself into the routine with passion and reckless abandon, and there was a lot of spectacular partnering with Will, although he struggled a bit with one of the lifts. It was a combination of soaring and vintage Sonya choreography.

Mary called Tiffany a fabulous dancer and said she was a star. Rob praised her extension and her fearlessness, and said that the song The Time Has Come was particularly appropriate for a show airing on 9/11. Nigel told Tiffany that she may be short in stature but he didn't notice, because her extension and presence make her seem so big, and she's a fabulous dancer.

Just moments after I was complaining that while Cyrus got to dance hiphop countless times during the season but Chehon didn't get to dance ballet, Chehon and Eliana paired up for a ballet routine choreographed by former Kirov principal dancer Marat Daukayev to the pas de deux from the Nutcracker Suite. Well, I say teamed up, although it was certainly much more Eliana's performance, because the routine (and the original dance) had only one real move for Chehon. But his partnering was absolutely magnificent, his lifts were incredible, and don't get me started on the way his legs looked in ballet tights. Holy muscles. (C'mon, I'm a gay guy recapping a dance show. What else am I looking at? Don't hate.)

The judges gave the routine a standing ovation. Rob praised Eliana's versatility and her breathtaking extension, and told Chehon that people don't realize how difficult the male role in ballet really is. Nigel said he never dreamed he'd see two ballet dancers in the finale, and praised Eliana's performance, particularly her quad into an arabesque. He also mentioned what wonderful support Chehon provided in the routine. And Mary got emotional for reasons I didn't understand. (Again, for a woman supposedly so committed to dance and technique, she's really thrown it all away in her praise of Cyrus this season.)

Cyrus and Tiffany took on a Tessandra Chavez-choreographed lyrical hiphop routine. (Wow, another hiphop routine for Cyrus. Yeah, that's fair.) The routine was about a young couple in love, but Cyrus broke Tiffany's heart and although she's moved on, he feels bad about it. Dancing to Best Thing I Never Had by Beyonce, I thought it was enjoyable, but Tiffany really outdanced her partner. Even in hiphop. (Shocking, I know.) She really threw everything into her performances.

Nigel reminded us again (it may be like the 17th time) that neither Cyrus nor Tiffany has been in the bottom two, and that both are so good at emotional routines. Then both he and Mary went into this whole song and dance about how Cyrus is so amazing because he can memorize so much choreography when he's never had to before. (This is what judging Cyrus has devolved into, praising him for what every other contestant has to do on the show.) Rob praised that both had abandon, and called the routine his favorite of the night so far. (Wasn't hard to pick a favorite yet.)

The four contestants joined forces for an absolutely ludicrous Keith-Tyce group number to Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. It may have been one of the worst things he's ever choreographed, and there have been some doozies. It felt utterly amateurish, with the contestants each playing around in their respective styles (so Cyrus got to do animation again). What was interesting is the routine had Chehon dressed in a tuxedo jacket with tails and Cyrus dressed in a tuxedo tshirt with running pants on. If that's not an apt comparison between the two, I don't know what is.

Eliana shared thoughts and tears on her journey to the finale, and then danced a solo to Johann Johannson's Passacaglia, which suffered in comparison to her earlier ballet routine.

Chehon paired with Season 2's Allison for a Stacey Tookey contemporary number to Leave from the musical Once. The routine was about a couple faced with Allison's getting an opportunity to leave and pursue her dreams, and Chehon is willing to let her. It was emotional, beautiful, powerful, and sensationally danced. Chehon did an amazing one-handed lift at one point, and in another Allison grabbed hold of his leg and he simply kicked her away. I didn't watch the show in Season 2, but was Allison this good, or has she grown into this talent? Stacey Tookey is becoming my favorite choreographer, and I love how excited she gets about the dancers and their performances.

The judges gave the routine a well-deserved standing ovation. Mary mentioned that Stacey was a three-time "nommy-Eminated" choreographer (Emmy-nominated, for those not well-versed in Mary-speak) and that this was her year. She praised Chehon's performance as free, elastic, and loose. Nigel continued his praise of Allison over her partners, but then told Chehon that he came alive in the routine, and that while in the past he has had some difficulty showing emotion, he was fantastic in this performance. Agreed.

The girls teamed up for a Broadway number choreographed by Ray Leeper (why do I think peeping tom every time I hear his name?) to When You're Good to Mama from Chicago. (Sucking up to Rob a little bit, Ray?) The burlesque-like number featured a pole (but nary a mention of Eliana's pole dancing performances prior to being on the show) and it was a tremendously athletic, fun, sexy routine. But I definitely feel it was steered to favor Eliana, because she was given an incredible opportunity to rotate atop the pole.

The judges gave the routine a standing ovation. Rob joked he was trying to imagine Queen Latifah doing that routine. Mary called it extraordinary, fun, and sassy, and a panting Nigel (gross) made some comment about a pole dancer and Randy Jackson and I threw up in my mouth a little.

In his third hiphop performance of the evening, Cyrus did his solo to Messinian's Holy Ghost. As I've said before, he's amazing to watch, but after a while, these performances start to blend into one for me. Mary and Rob gave his solo a standing ovation.

Tiffany talked about her journey to the finale, and that she didn't get much screen time during the auditions or Vegas shows, and she even blended in on her first few performance shows, so she hopes people realize what a fighter she is. So sweet. I loved her solo to Fantasia's I Believe. So passionate and heartfelt.

The guys paired up with Sonya for a routine designed to commemorate their struggle to get to the finale. Dancing to Fangs by Little Red Lung (the District 78 remix), the routine threw in elements of each dancer's individual style with a lot of lifts and tumbles. Side by side, Chehon clearly outdanced Cyrus, although Cyrus' footwork has improved.

Nigel mentioned that Cyrus has improved as a dancer, he's an inspiration, makes the birds sing and the flowers bloom, blah blah blah, and then called Cyrus his favorite person on the show. He praised Chehon's growth as a person, because he didn't have to grow as a dancer since he's so fantastic, and he called Chehon his favorite male dancer. (My eyebrows raised.) Nigel also threw in a random reference to Jennifer Beals (who was sitting in the audience) and how she inspired a generation of dancers. (Wait, didn't she get sued by someone claiming to be her dancing double? Or was that the person who sued Paula Abdul, claiming she sang and Paula lip-synced?) Mary blathered on about the dancers' journeys and Rob said how the routine was all about camaraderie and lifting each other up, which is what dancers do. (Except in every movie about dance ever made.)

The dancers got a much-deserved short break when French b-boy Jean Sok, who has only one leg, gave an absolutely fantastic performance to Expression by Helen Jane Long. I'm guessing we're only a season away from a dancer with a disability appearing on the show, considering we've seen two performances in a row from dancers with disabilities. (Sorry if that comes across as more cynical than it's meant to be. I'm just not naive enough to believe anything is done on reality shows like this without some calculation.)

Chehon's solo to DeVotchKa's How It Ends (also known as the song from Kent and Neil's fantastic performance from Season 7) was amazing. I didn't like him as much early on as I do now, although I've always marveled at his dancing.

Eliana had a second chance to pair with Alex Freaking Wong (after their amazing routine a few weeks ago), this time to a Travis Wall-choreographed routine to Harry Nilsson's Without You. (I must say, I love that he chose the original version of this song and not Mariah Carey's bombastic version.) The two dancers are terrific together, and imbued this performance with a tremendous amount of passion, athleticism, and beauty.

Rob called the performance "poetry," and said there's nothing Eliana can't do. Nigel told Eliana not only was she his favorite girl dancer of the season, but she is his favorite dancer of all-time on the show. I think she may be in the top five (although I've only seen four seasons of the show), but I wonder about the best of all-time label. But what do I know?

Tiffany and Chehon paired up for a rumba choreographed by Dmitry Chaplin to a cover of Elvis' Love Me Tender by Adam Levy and Norah Jones. I thought it was sexy, dreamy performance; the stage even had gauzy white curtains to set the scene.

Mary said that while Chehon has had problems with Latin dances this season, the rumba suits him, and she called Tiffany a fabulous little Latin dancer, although she didn't believe the chemistry between the two. (But she believed the chemistry between Tiffany and Cyrus? Me says no.) Rob disagreed, saying the routine was sexy and the pair had beautiful connection without overselling. He called Chehon "smooth and elegant," and said he loved watching the pair's abandon. Nigel said the routine was much sexier than the pole dancing performance.

For the final routine of the evening (surprise), Cyrus and tWitch paired up on the season's first animation routine. (For those of you keeping score, that's three hiphop performances for Cyrus, plus the group routine, in which he also got to perform in his own style.) Christopher Scott choreographed the routine, about genetic specimens who break out of a secret lab, to Like a Criminal by District 78. (Someone must be paying District 78 serious royalties this season.) This was a fun, enjoyable number, but it wasn't nearly as mind-blowing as I expected it would be, and I found myself watching tWitch more than Cyrus.

To the surprise of no one, the judges gave the routine a standing ovation. Mary exclaimed how good it was to see Cyrus on his home turf, and said the pair stole the show. And this is when it got interesting. Nigel praised tWitch for the hard work he put into the routine. He then told Cyrus how amazing he was, how inspirational (yet again; it's like the guy is a walking Chicken Soup for the Animator's Soul or something) and Nigel said "I love your bones." However, Nigel explained he wouldn't be voting for Cyrus, because he respects dance, and feels like Cyrus has so much more to learn. So although he's tremendously proud of Cyrus, he needs to vote for Chehon.

Okay, dismissing the fact that I don't imagine Nigel is actually allowed to vote, WTF? I've seen numerous people commenting on Facebook and various other sites that they felt Nigel's comments were disrespectful of Cyrus, and some even said they'd vote with a vengeance for Cyrus even though they didn't think he deserved it, just to prove Nigel wrong.

Was this Nigel finally owning up to the fact that Cyrus is only in the finale because he's likeable and the judges (and, to some extent, the choreographers) have given him a pass all season, but they've torn other dancers to shreds? Was this an acknowledgment that Cyrus has outlasted Cole, Will, Matthew, George, Dareian (even with bad feet), and heck, even Daniel? Do personality and an inspirational story really trump all of that talent? It's not like every one of those aforementioned contestants were unlikeable robots.

That's when you start to wonder whether Nigel knows the audience and the voters of this show all too well, and figured he'd fire up people to vote for Cyrus, but Nigel could get a pass, because he said publicly he supported Chehon. I mean, if you remember Season 8 of American Idol, the judges all but told Kris Allen "Thank you for coming" during the finale against Adam Lambert, but Kris won. Decisively.

Ugh. Why do reality shows force me to have conspiracy theories? Oh, wait. Because most of them are true.

So here's what I think:

Who should win: Chehon and Eliana Who will win: Are you kidding?

I'd like to believe true dancing will prevail, but c'mon. If true dancing won out, it would have been a much different finahle, at least on the guys' side.

So, until then, those of you in California make sure you order your Arts license plates!!

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